Tag: lawyer

Taking Your Divorce Case to Trial Requires Just as Much from You as It Does of Your Lawyer, By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Taking your divorce case to trial is almost always a long, complicated, and emotionally exhausting process. You may be tempted to believe you can leave all of the work to your lawyer and show up the day of trial to sit on the sidelines while your lawyer does all the work. It might be nice if this were the way it could be, but it can’t.

Your trial is the final round; you need to work harder at your trial than you did in the months (perhaps even the years) leading up to the trial. You should be ready to testify—knowledgeably and shrewdly[1] on any issue in your case at your trial, and if your lawyer is good, he or she will have prepared you to testify that way.

If you leave all of the work to your lawyer, he or she cannot be as effective as he or she otherwise can be.

Failing or refusing to tell your attorney the truth, to give your attorney the documentation and other information needed to have a clear picture of the case. The strengths and the weaknesses of your case. Hiding this information from your attorney, lying to your attorney, or hoping that nobody will find out the weaknesses in your history, your character, and your case can be fatal (but almost certainly damaging) to your case. Failing or refusing to read what your attorney needs you to read and to provide the documents your lawyer needs to prepare for your case will risk leaving holes in your case that the opposition and/or the court can exploit to your detriment.

Your trial will likely be both a physically and emotionally exhausting experience in the best of situations, so you need to prepare for trial as best you reasonably can. Do the needed work. A prepared litigant is a confident one. You need to have your exhibits, witnesses, and your testimony prepared for trial as best you reasonably can. A prepared attorney is a confident one as well.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

[1] shrewdly doesn’t mean “dishonestly”; it means that you testify truthfully without testifying in a manner that can inaccurately, misleadingly, deceptively, and unfairly be twisted and used against you.

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People Who Are Getting an Extremely-Contested Divorce W/O Paying for Lawyers, Need Step-By-Step Directions in Their State! If There Were Uncontested Divorces, There Would Be No Divorces at All, Because Both Partners Would Be Getting Along Perfectly?

Sure, they need that. It is a great idea.

Where there is a demand to be filled, markets arise to fill them.

It would be a great benefit to people going through an highly contested divorce to have free step-by-step directions, so that they would not have to pay for a lawyer’s help and representation as they navigate the divorce process, but for such things to exist requires someone to do an incredible amount of work (more than you’d think), and few people can or want to do that much work free of charge. Which is why such a thing does not really exist.

Cheesy/sleazy divorce lawyers will put this quotation attributed to Willie Nelson on their office walls and websites, but that makes it no less true for most people: “You know why divorces are so expensive? They are worth it.”

There are many self-help resources for people who want to go through the divorce process pro se (that means unrepresented by an attorney; also known as pro per), but none of them (at least none that I know of) can produce results of the same accuracy, completeness, and high quality that a good (a good) lawyer can. That is the hard truth.

Frankly, some people can file for and obtain a fair decree of divorce without an attorney’s help, but few have that ability (few have the guts, the time, the smarts, the physical, mental, and emotional stamina, and the patience to represent themselves successfully), and the more complex the case is, the harder it is for one to process such a case to a successful completion.  That is the hard truth too.

It is not that getting a divorce is all that hard procedurally, it is just that to those who do not know what they are doing, it can be intimidating at best and prone to committing ignorant errors that can be irreparable. If one has time on one’s hands and a cooperative spouse, they could pull off a reasonable and fair DIY divorce, but such circumstances in divorce are extraordinarily rare.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Your Divorce Lawyer is Serious About Deadlines By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Throughout the divorce process you will have to meet many deadlines.

The court will even provide you with a list of due dates known as a notice of event due dates. If your lawyer does not provide you with a copy, ask for a copy, so that you know the deadlines for yourself.

The consequences for failing to meet the deadlines set by the court and the rules of court in your case can be damaging, even fatal to your case.

When a petition for divorce is filed and served, there is a deadline by which you must file and serve responsive pleadings, meaning your answer or answer and counterclaim. If you don’t respond by the set deadline, default judgment could be entered against you.

If you do not complete discovery or provide your initial disclosures by the deadlines, you may be barred from gathering or presenting evidence or witnesses at trial.

What about extensions of time? You might get an extension on a deadline if you have a legitimate reason to ask for one and if the opposing party agrees to grant you an extension or the court grants your request for an extension. Be careful when asking for extensions, however. If you get an extension on one deadline, the opposing party will almost surely expect a favor from you too in the future.

You are better off (and better for it) by religiously adhering to deadlines. Complying with the deadlines set by the court and the rules of court results in the fewest errors and setbacks and in the fairest and most equitable treatment from the court. And that results in your greatest changes of success.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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My Husband Is Forcing Me to Get My Inheritance From Court From My Ex-husband’s (Deceased) Brothers Otherwise He Will Divorce Me. What Should I Do?

Talk to a good (a good) lawyer about whether you even have the right to “inherit” from your ex-husband’s brothers. Unless there are bizarre circumstances at work here, odds are you have no rights to your ex-husband’s brothers’ decedents’ estates. Talk to a good lawyer who handles wills and probate matters to find out. Heck, bring your husband along to the meeting, so that he learn first-hand from the lawyer himself (that way he can’t tell you that “you don’t understand” if you come back from the lawyer’s office by yourself and tell your husband what the lawyer told you).

As for a husband who threatens to divorce you if you don’t try to obtain a portion of your ex-husband’s brothers’ decedents’ estates, if this kind of behavior on his part is the norm in your marriage, you ought next to find out if this is mental illness, whether it’s behavior that can be corrected, whether he’ll recognize the behavior as wrong, or whether he’ll choose (regardless of why) to continue to conduct himself contemptibly. If your husband is chronically manipulating or emotionally abusing you without remorse, you may be better off without him.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Is It Possible to Discredit a Biased Custody Evaluation Full of Unsubstantiated and False Claims?

Yes, it is possible, but not always possible, and when it is possible it is often very difficult to accomplish.

Difficult not because custody evaluators are particularly competent (they typically are not, in my experience) but because the family law system appears to love custody evaluations.

And why does the system love custody evaluations?

  • One main reason: it takes the job of reviewing and analyzing the child custody evidence off the judge’s plate.
  • Another reason: some courts honestly find custody evaluations truly informative. In fairness, a custody evaluator who gathers relevant facts, analyzes them clearly and understandably, and makes cogent recommendations based upon the evidence and analysis with minimal reliance on subjective opinion provides a valuable service to parents and court alike. Rarely, however, are a custody evaluation performed and the recommendations made competently.
  • Another reason: regardless of whether the judge was being sensitive and thorough in analyzing the child custody issues, it makes the judge look that way.
  • Another reason: if the judge wants to rule a certain way and the custody evaluation supports what the judge wants to do, the judge can praise and cite to the custody evaluation (if the judge wants to rule a certain way and the custody evaluation is contrary to what the judge wants to do, the judge can simply (even blithely) dismiss the evaluator and evaluation—in classic 20/20 hindsight fashion—as “insufficient” or “incomplete” or “lacking detail” or “poorly reasoned” or “failing to address [fill in the blank here]” or “subjective”, etc. You may wonder whether it is fair to say such things of a custody evaluator and the evaluator’s report. It usually is, but even if it’s not (i.e., the evaluator did a commendable job), that won’t stop a judge who’s bent on ruling the way the judge wants to rule).

How do you refute an incompetent/inaccurate custody evaluation and recommendations? I could give you checklist, but that wouldn’t apply in all situations. The harsh reality: to refute and overcome a bad custody evaluation (“bad” meaning defective, not “performed competently, but adverse to me”) you will need to be prepared to spend a lot of money on 1) an excellent, skilled, fearless attorney; and 2) a rebuttal expert of your own who is more qualified and experienced and more articulate than the custody evaluator you are seeking to discredit. The attorney and rebuttal expert you need don’t come cheap.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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You Reap What You Sow.

I’m Braxton Mounteer, a legal assistant. I’ve written and talked about this problem before, but it’s a recurring problem and a serious one. It’s hard enough to muster the courage to hire a divorce lawyer and pay so much money to your lawyer to represent you in your divorce in the hope that your lawyer can protect you, guide you through the divorce process, help you make sense of what’s going on, and bring you to the end of the divorce process with an equitable outcome. So why do so many clients make it so difficult for their lawyers to help them? Why do so many clients procrastinate? Why do they ignore or put off until the last minute their attorneys’ requests for vital documents. Why do they evade or give incomplete or outright false answers to important questions? Why do so many clients act as though their wish is the lawyer’s command? Look, we know this is a hard process for you. We know it’s hard to manage all of life’s challenges without a divorce being added to the mix. We know you don’t like having to go through your financial records and share them with strangers. We know you don’t want to go over your criminal history, your infidelity, your substance abuse, and other examples of your bad judgment you’ve been trying to leave in the past and move on from and even forget. We know you don’t like what feels like intrusions into your privacy, your mental and physical health history, relationships between you and your spouse, between you and your children, between you and other members of your extended family and circle of friends. We know that you hate already being in dire financial straits before you had to start budgeting to pay for a divorce lawyer. We know you don’t like feeling ignorant of the legal system and all the terms getting thrown around as the lawyers and the courts discuss your fate. We know how tempting it is to believe if you simply bury your head in the sand all of this will go away. But it won’t. It’s tempting to fool yourself into believing that once you hire a divorce lawyer it’s all in your lawyer’s hands. But it’s not. If you have a house, some retirement savings, minor children, if you are facing the prospect of paying or receiving alimony, if there’s substantial marital debt, then you will almost surely benefit in the long run from investing in the services of a skilled divorce lawyer. The most effective lawyers work with a client, not merely for a client. Lawyers are called counselors for a reason; They confer with you, they advise you, but the choices are yours to make. Wouldn’t you rather have as many options and choices open to you? Wouldn’t you rather act instead of being acted upon? In a very real sense, how much your lawyer can help you depends upon how much you help your lawyer. You reap what you sow.

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My attorney withdrew as my counsel in my divorce case. What do I do now?

I received a notice from opposing counsel that looks (or contains) something like this:

“You are hereby notified of your responsibility to appear personally or appoint counsel.”

What does this mean? What do I do now?

First, let’s explain to you and to other readers what a withdrawal of counsel is.

“Withdrawal of counsel” means that your attorney no longer represents you, that your attorney does not work for you anymore. Your attorney can “quit” in the middle of a case, and there two common scenarios when they do: 1) when the client cannot pay the attorney’s fees and/or 2) when the attorney and client don’t see eye to eye on how to proceed with the case. As long as no motion is pending or a hearing or trial has not been set, an attorney may withdraw by simply giving his/her client, the opposing attorney or party (if the party is not represented by an attorney), and the court a written “Notice of Withdrawal of Counsel” (a copy of which is filed with the court). If a motion is pending or a hearing or trial has been set, an attorney may not withdraw except upon motion and order of the court. See Utah Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 74.

Rule 74 further provides:

(c) Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel. If an attorney withdraws other than under subdivision (b), dies, is suspended from the practice of law, is disbarred, or is removed from the case by the court, the opposing party shall serve a Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel on the unrepresented party, informing the party of the responsibility to appear personally or appoint counsel. A copy of the Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel must be filed with the court. No further proceedings shall be held in the case until 21 days after filing the Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel unless the unrepresented party waives the time requirement or unless otherwise ordered by the court.

(d) Substitution of counsel. An attorney may replace the counsel of record by filing and serving a notice of substitution of counsel signed by former counsel, new counsel and the client. Court approval is not required if new counsel certifies in the notice of substitution that counsel will comply with the existing hearing schedule and deadlines.

If your attorney has withdrawn as your counsel and you either can’t find a new attorney or Licensed Paralegal Practitioner (LPP) to take his/her place, or if you choose to represent yourself (which is known as proceeding pro se) from that point, you are required to provide the opposing attorney or party (if the party is not represented by an attorney), and the court with a written “Notice of Personal Appearance OR Notice of Counsel’s or Licensed Paralegal Practitioner’s Appearance” (a copy of which is filed with the court). A form you can use for this purpose has been prepared by the Utah Courts and is available on their website here: Notice of Personal Appearance OR Notice of Counsel’s or Licensed Paralegal Practitioner’s Appearance (

This page on the Utah Courts website may also be helpful to you if you are proceeding pro se: Going to Court (

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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How likely is a judge to give the non-custodial parent 50-50 parenting time after the primary custodial parent has been the primary parent for three years?

Before you read another word, know this: the answer in these situations is, “It depends on many and varying factors.” Nobody likes that kind of answer, but it’s the truth here.

Consult several attorneys in your jurisdiction about whether you may have a good case for a change of custody, if you believe you may. Many attorneys who consider themselves or bill themselves as “good and knowledgeable” attorneys on this subject don’t really know. Get second, third, and fourth opinions (but be warned: if an attorney tells you what sounds too good to be true, it likely is too good to be true and is being told to you to part you from your money).

Generally speaking, if no circumstances pertaining to the child custody award have changed substantially and materially during that three-year period, it is highly unlikely that the court would modify the child custody award and award the non-custodial parent custody of the children.

So, just what is a substantial and material change in circumstances pertaining to the child custody award? I cannot speak to how all jurisdictions define it, but in Utah (where I practice divorce and family law), the substantial and material change in circumstances that will lead to a change in the child custody award is overwhelmingly a change for the worse in the custodial parent’s circumstances. Even if the non-custodial parent could indisputably prove that he/she has significantly bettered himself/herself as a parent, if the custodial parent has become no worse than he/she was when the custody award was originally made, if his/her circumstances are substantially unchanged, then a modification custody will not likely be deemed appropriate or in the best interest of the child(ren).

But what if a court expressly stated that a parent was not awarded sole or joint custody due to suffering from some defect, that but for that defect he/she would have been awarded custody, and that the parent has since remedied the defect? In Utah, that could be a basis for modifying the child custody award. (See Hogge v. Hogge, 649 P.2d 51 (Supreme Court of Utah 1982)

If neither parent’s circumstances have substantially and materially changed, but the child’s circumstances have substantially and materially changed since the original custody award was made such that it would be in the child’s best interest for custody of the child to change, that could be a legitimate basis for seeking to modify the child custody award.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Some hard truths about divorce litigation in Utah.

To those of you who ask, “How did I lose that argument in my divorce case? The judge couldn’t say why he/she believed my witness(es) over my spouse’s witness(es)!”:

A district court “may make findings, credibility determinations, or other assessments without detailing its justification for finding particular evidence more credible or persuasive than other evidence supporting a different outcome.” Shuman v. Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 6, 406 P.3d 258 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 412 P.3d 1257 (Utah 2018).

To those of you who ask, “How could the court dismiss the opinions of my expert witness?”:

“Courts are not bound to accept the testimony of an expert and are free to judge the expert testimony as to its credibility and its persuasive influence in light of all of the other evidence in the case.” Barrani v. Barrani, 2014 UT App 204, ¶ 4, 334 P.3d 994 (quotation simplified).

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Client Red Flags By Braxton Mounteer

In my time as a legal assistant in the family law profession, I have observed many different kinds of client behaviors, some better than others. Those behaviors that cause the warning sirens to go off in our office are not always apparent upon first meeting with a client. It can be two or three weeks of communication before a red flag behavior appears.

One of the worst red flags that I have seen is not telling the whole truth. Clients who spin a yarn that falsely paints them as victims who are down on their luck and being abused by their exes and the system. Usually, this kind of dishonest client is not only being dishonest, but gives as good has he or she got in a mutually dysfunctional relationship. There isn’t much of an argument to be had by accusing your spouse of being an abusive drunk, a pill-popper, a philanderer, etc. when you’re engaged in the same or similar bad behavior. Be honest with your lawyer. He can help you. He can’t magically make all problems disappear, but he can ensure you present the ugly truths about yourself in the most effective ways. Your lawyer can’t help you very much, if at all, however, if you’re not honest with your lawyer. Period.

Another behavior that sets off the warning bells are the clients who focus on how much money and/or assets that they can get out of their former spouse. You are entitled to an equitable distribution of the marital assets. A fair division. But when clients try to leverage the children for money lie about abuse and betrayal and debauchery, that’s not only disgusting but it can backfire.

Finally, the least damning of the red flags but the most common are the clients who ghost their lawyers. Why would you hire an attorney ostensibly to help you, then not cooperate with them? If your lawyer is calling, it is probably important. You need to take the call. You need to return the call. Read your lawyer’s emails. Respond to them. Timely. When you fall asleep at the wheel or just expect your lawyer to do everything, it isn’t your lawyer’s fault when things go awry.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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The Problem with Private Guardians ad Litem. Part 2 of 3

As any attorney can do with any client, a PGAL clearly has the right to argue on a child client’s behalf, and the Utah Code makes clear that a PGAL can express a child client’s “intentions and desires”. (See Utah Code Section 78A-2-705(13)(d))

When a PGAL tells a court, “I’ve spoken to my client, and based upon those discussions, I can tell you that his/her intentions and desires are . . .” is hearsay or, at the very least, inferential hearsay. It can’t be anything else. Such a hearsay declarant is at least subject to cross examination (URE 806).

There is a pervasive belief among Utah family law attorneys and judicial officers that a child represented by a PGAL cannot even be cross-examined. There is no legal authority for this. Indeed, all legal authority is to the contrary.

Children testify in Utah juvenile court proceedings, and when they do, they often do under various circumstances (regarding child custody and parent-time) that are substantively indistinguishable from testifying in a child custody and parent-time in a divorce or district court child custody case. When district courts try to make a distinction between testifying in juvenile court and barring testimony in district court, they fail. They must. It is a distinction without difference.

I really do not understand why everyone frames (or tries to frame) asking questions of children who are the subject of a child custody and/or parent-time dispute as inherently harmful to children. One can ask certain questions that harm, or elicit answers that harm, but all forms of questioning are not innately harmful to children. Moreover, there is a level of harm that is, frankly, justified when the value of the testimonial evidence elicited is greater than the harm caused or that may be caused (it’s why we jail witnesses who are afraid to testify against the mob, yet put them in witness protection). Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Unless they are very young, children are not so ignorant as to have no idea what is happening in a child custody dispute case. They know that if there is a dispute over custody that one parent will be unhappy. The children aren’t surprised when one parent or both parents try to lobby to support their candidacy for “best parent” or “custodial parent”. They aren’t surprised if a court wants to know what the children have experienced, how children feel, and what the children want on the subject of the child custody and parent-time awards.

There are clearly ways to obtain valuable evidence that children and only children are uniquely able to provide (in the form of their about their experiences, observations, feelings, opinions, preferences, and desires on the subject without it harming or unduly harming them.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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How Can You Tell if Your Lawyer Is Lying About Winning Cases if There Is No Evidence of It Online or in Paper Form?

Effectively, you can’t.

You might be able to verify whether your lawyer is telling the truth about his/her winning record if the lawyer is willing to give you the information about the case number, the parties, and the opposing lawyer, so that you could—with that information in hand—inquire with the opposing party and the opposing lawyer to see whether they can verify what your lawyer claims is true.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Are some cases out there where the counsel has lied to his or her client?

Lawyers’ reputation for lying is, unfortunately, well-founded. There is a Bosnian proverb, “He who will lie for you will lie to you.” Lawyers who lie for their clients (and there are plenty of them) have surely lied to their clients too.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Do family law divorce attorneys of the opposite side stalk and harass their client’s opposition if the client pays for it?

Some do (if you can imagine an attorney doing something like that, it’s probably already been done), but they’re outliers, and they are violating both the law and the rules governing fitness to practice law if and when they do so.

If an attorney is actually (actually) violating the law or violating the rules governing the practice of law, you are not obligated to suffer it. Notify your attorney and bring the misconduct to the attention of the court, the police, and the bar.

That stated, one cannot simply and subjectively brand an attorney of being a stalker or of engaging in harassing behavior and thus establish the attorney as a stalker or harasser. It’s common for sore losers to make false accusations of harassment against an opposing party and his/her attorney. Why? Because it’s a cheap, risk-free way to cast aspersions and demonize and neutralize (if the accusations stick to any degree) the opposing party and/or his/her attorney. Don’t be that guy/gal. If you think you may feel “stalked” and/or “harassed,” before your start accusing, be honest with yourself and ask whether you’re truly being stalked and harassed or just feeling defeated, hurt, angry, anxious, and afraid and wanting to lash out.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Important things divorce attorney clients need to know but would easily and freely be forgiven for not knowing without being told. No. 2:

If your attorney calls you, it’s important. Take the call, and if you can’t take the call, then call back ASAP (meaning same day, and not at 4:47 p.m.). Hours can often make the difference between winning and losing. If your lawyer is desperately trying to get in touch with you in the morning and you don’t respond until later that day, or worse, days later, it may be too late. Really. No, really.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why Your Lawyer Might Drop Your Case By Braxton Mounteer

So, you have gotten news that your attorney has quit. Your attorney wrote you an email informing you that he or she your counsel either will soon withdraw as your counsel or has filed and served a notice of withdrawal of counsel. What does this mean? How does this work?
Did you not pay your lawyer? Were you not cooperating with your lawyer? Were you disregarding your lawyer’s advice? Actively working against your lawyer? Sabotaging your own case?

Was the case just too much for your lawyer? Did your lawyer get sick or did an emergency arise that requires all of his/her attention? Could your lawyer sense that you were disappointed in your lawyer’s performance and didn’t want to stick around?

Regardless of what the reason was, you no longer have or will soon not have legal counsel. You will need to find another lawyer to represent you.

You may believe that you could do better than your legal counsel. You wouldn’t be the first to think that way. You are likely frightfully mistaken.  Unless you are a genius who can learn in weeks what it take others years to master, you will not get a good enough handle on the legal system in time. Even if you did master the law, that doesn’t mean you can succeed as well as a lawyer could.
The law on the books is not always the law handed down in court. Insiders have, and will always have, an advantage over those who aren’t legal professionals.
And the legal profession is not kind to those who “did not pay their dues” in law school and by taking the bar exam. Pro se litigants (i.e., people who represent themselves in court cases) who are the equals of lawyers in their writing and oral arguments make most lawyers feel inferior and threatened (and that includes the former lawyers who are now judges). When pro se litigants are so “presumptuous” as to think they will be taken as seriously as the lawyers, the system tends to discriminate against the pro se litigants. So even if your lawyer is nothing more than a useful prop, get one.
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What Made You Want to Become a Family Law Attorney?

Thank you for asking this question. It comes at a time when I’ve been thinking about this very subject.

I am the first lawyer in my family. I am also, at this point, the only lawyer in my family. I’ve been practicing law for 25 years, and while I did not exclusively practice family law at the beginning of my career, I practiced family law throughout my career, and focused purely on family law for the last 13 years. I chose to practice family law because I got tired of this scenario:

Potential client: Somebody did me wrong to the tune of $20,000, and I’d like to know how much it will cost for me to sue him to get a judgment against him for $20,000.

Me: It will cost you about $20,000 to sue him to get a judgment for $20,000.

Potential client: Hmmm, so I have to pay $20,000 to get $20,000? That still means I’m out $20,000.

Me: No, it’s worse than that. It will cost you $20,000 to sue him to get a judgment for $20,000, if you get a judgment for $20,000 against him, and even if you do get the judgment for $20,000 against him, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to collect that $20,000 judgment. You will likely have to spend more time and effort after obtaining the judgment against him to collect the $20,000, and that’s if he actually has $20,000 that you can collect.

Potential client: Then it seems to me that it doesn’t take a genius to realize that odds are I’d be better off just cutting my losses and not suing.

Me: Agreed. Suing people to recover damages is, for most people, a losing proposition, in my experience.

It was good advice, but as you may have guessed, I didn’t make any money dispensing such advice.

Personal injury is too much of a money grab. Of course those who were wrongfully injured deserve compensation for their losses, but that has about as much to do with personal injury practice as that trip to Vegas has to do with being a necessary business expense.

I didn’t like criminal defense because I got tired of A) guilty people wanting my help to avoid accountability and B) dealing with those prosecutors and judges who at best don’t much value innocence and at worst fraudulently disregard it.

So what makes family law any different? While divorce and child custody disputes are also often matters of throwing good money after bad, you at least possess something you haven’t yet lost and that you may, if you can persuade the court that your just cause is just, still hold onto after all the litigation dust settles. Fighting for your children, your home, and your livelihood are some of the last things people should give up on. This is one of the reasons why I became a family lawyer. It’s a good fight.

What issues in divorce and family law that do not drown in a vast sea of lies are difficult–at times impossible–to detect in and among the fraudulent froth, which breeds cynicism and apathy in most judges. Knowing this, judges’ credulity fatigue leads to perfunctory, “I don’t need to hear any more” and “your guess is as good as mine” decisions. Knowing this, lawyers and litigants too often either deliberately take an ends justify the means approach or a “who knows what’ll work; let’s see what sticks to the wall” approach. Litigants abuse lawyers who abuse judges who abuse litigants in a vicious circle. Nothing destroys one’s faith in the legal system more or faster than experience with the legal system. The practice of family law is soul sucking. While our legal system is fairly well designed, it is, in general, poorly administered at every level from the judges on down to the lawyers and to the litigants. While there are some good people working within the system, there are not enough of them to make a meaningful difference in most cases, to say nothing of all cases. This is the other reason I practice family law; it’s the only practice niche where—because I know through hard-won experience where the quicksand, snakes, and tigers are, and how to avoid them, if not always defeat them—I can still do some good some of the time more often than in any other practice niche, and thus I can earn the money I charge for my services.


Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What advice would you give to someone who has just started a divorce?

What advice would you give to someone who has just become one of the parties in a divorce proceeding?

#1. Know this: divorce law and the divorce process are almost surely not what you think they are. They are scarier, more complex, more confusing, more time-consuming, more expensive, more disappointing, and more discouraging than you can imagine. Ignore my words at your peril. 

#2. Don’t sign anything your spouse asks you to sign without reviewing it with a good divorce lawyer. Don’t let what your spouse tells you about “how it’s gonna be” upset or worry you. Don’t believe him/her when he/she says, “My lawyer says you must ______” or “I have the best lawyer in town.” Most of what your spouse tells you will be lies meant to intimidate, coerce, and dupe you. 

#3. Don’t take friends’ and family members’ advice as as substitute for the advice of a good attorney. Your friends and family members usually mean well, but have no idea what they’re talking about. 

#4. Keep an eye on your valuable things and information. They tend to disappear once a divorce is filed. Secure: 

  • your financial accounts against your spouse draining them; 
  • your important documents (this is not an exhaustive list): 
    • tax records 
    • loan/debt records, loan and credit applications 
    • appraisals/valuations 
    • bank/financial institution records 
    • insurance records 
    • birth certificates 
    • Social Security cards 
    • passports (for you and the kids) 
    • pay stubs 
    • account statements 
    • certificates of title 
    • estate planning records 
    • business records 
    • medical and health care records (for every member of the family) 
    • photographs 
    • your prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, if you have one 
    • etc. 

Inventory everything (take videos and photographs of it all) that you own (both jointly and separately); 

  • make sure your password-protected accounts (e-mail, cell phone, social media, credit cards, bank/financial institution accounts, bills to pay, financial accounts, credit cards, etc.) cannot be accessed by your spouse without your advance knowledge and consent; 
  • route your personal mail to a P.O. Box to which only you have access; 

#5. Don’t act out of fear or anger or revenge. If you do, you may do your case irreparable damage. Keep a cool head. Get a good divorce attorney’s advice. 

#6. Talk to a good divorce lawyer (not just any lawyer, not just any divorce lawyer, but a good divorce lawyer) now. Right now. Not next week. Now. Right now. Pick up the phone and make an appointment with a good divorce lawyer right now. Timing can and usually is crucial in divorce. 

  • The longer you put off speaking with a good divorce lawyer the more you lose (possibly forever) the benefits of knowing what you can and should be doing right now to protect and preserve your interests and those of your children (if you have minor children). 
  • Notice that I did not write “hire a good divorce lawyer right now.” If you can hire a good divorce lawyer right now, do it. The sooner you get competent legal representation the better. No exceptions. 
  • But if you do not have (or falsely believe you do not have) the money to afford a good divorce lawyer, scrape together enough money to meet and confer with a good divorce lawyer for an hour. It will be one of the best investments you ever make. 
    • A good divorce lawyer is not a bulldog. A good divorce lawyer is not a shark. a good divorce lawyer is not someone who is effective at cheating ( as the old Bosnian proverb goes, “He who will lie for you will lie to you.”) A good divorce lawyer is someone with experience, skill, and decency. These kinds of divorce lawyers exist, but are very hard to find. But they are worth finding. If you want your divorce to be less expensive, less time-consuming, and less miserable, find this kind of good divorce lawyer. 

#7. Unless you are young, penniless, childless, and convinced your spouse won’t or can’t hang you out to dry in divorce, don’t go the DIY route. Hire a good divorce lawyer, if at all possible. 

  • If you: 
    • earn money or receive money from other sources 
      • are self-employed 
    • own property of any kind 
    • have money in the bank, investment accounts, or tied up in a pension and/or retirement accounts 
    • have debts and obligations 
    • are financially dependent upon your spouse 
    • have a spouse who is financially dependent on you (in full or in part) 
    • have minor children 
    • are married to a malicious or crazy-malicious person 
      • have been accused of abusing your spouse or children, 

then odds are high that trying to divorce without a good lawyer’s representation throughout the divorce case is going to be absolutely miserable.  

 Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277   

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If you give a divorce lawyer a retainer on a divorce and then change your mind within a few days, are they obligated to return the retainer?

While I cannot speak for all jurisdictions and for all situations, generally an attorney to whom you have paid a retainer or advance deposit is obligated to return the unearned portion of that retainer/deposit if you terminate that attorney’s services, especially if you terminate the attorney’s services within days of retaining the attorney.

You will need to read your contract/representation agreement that you have with your attorney and gain an understanding of the ethical rules that govern attorney compensation in your jurisdiction to determine if there are exceptions to this general principle.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Do attorneys ever have to represent relatives?

Do attorneys ever have to represent relatives or is that a conflict of interest?

I will give my personal opinion (as a lawyer, but not as a lawyer giving anyone any particular legal advice) as it applies in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah).  

There is no inherent conflict of interest in an attorney representing a relative simply by virtue of the client being a relative. There is no inherent conflict of interest in an attorney representing a relative against another relative either simply by virtue of the client being a relative.  

If you learn that the opposing party’s attorney is a relative of that party, that is not a conflict of interest that would disqualify that attorney from representing that party.   

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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